I was giving advice on buying a piece of property the other day to a fellow Chi Alpha campus pastor. I used to sell real estate for a living and knew the answers to many questions she had. It got me thinking about the last blog entry I wrote about effective techniques for “marketing” your church or ministry (something even I struggle with as I itinerate to raise money to get me to the mission field.)
A couple days ago I was at a sectional prayer retreat that many local pastors attended, most of them venerable. The meeting took place inside the church I’m currently helping at as a volunteer; it’s a church that shut down after many years of limping along. Months after the doors closed, a 30-something pastor friend of mine was asked if he would go pastor it—restart the church with fresh vision and fire, youth and vigor, and run a wholly new church from the old building as a church plant. One of the older ministers at this meeting said something regarding prayer that I picked up on.
“We don’t talk much about ‘praying it through’ anymore,” he said. “It’s an outdated, archaic figure of speech, but it holds true, still. Sometimes we need to stay and pray until we have an answer, push through and persist until we hear the voice of God.”
I’ve heard that a lot, actually. And what he said was true, every word of it. What got me thinking was the acknowledgement that we continue using archaic terminology in regards to Christian culture.
As I said, I totally believe in the truthfulness of what he said. It’s an accurate method, supported by scripture, and yet the expression “pray it through” is terminology from a bygone era, hearkening to mind the image of a sweaty jowled minister hunched over a radio condenser microphone in a black and white photo. Culture has changed and, unfortunately, stalwarts and contemporaries alike have prejudged the previous and new traditions in a nasty joint-cycle of ageism, reverse ageism, and other forms of social discrimination and judgementalism. There is fault on both sides. True.
In light of the bickering, we must consider the value of the human soul (Matt 16:26) and the mind-obliterating need for us to fulfill Jesus’ last command, the Great Commission (to evangelize the whole world-Matt 16:19). All arguing aside, isn’t the need for evangelism still so great that it looms above our own country like some mountain yet to be conquered?
We send missionaries out into the world, yes, but we forget that we have an entire country all around us to witness to. Many people (especially the older saints who remember “the good old days,”) ask what has happened to this once great nation. How is it that we’ve climbed so quickly into such a hand basket destined for hell? For the most part, the generation asking this question is that generation once responsible for training and educating the people in authority right now (both the church and secular realms). The bewildered blue-haired parents ask how we’ve fallen so far, and yet tell us all exactly how we must do proceed in our current ministries, dictating the only possible ways that God may move upon His people. I’ve been told before, by multiple people, that, “You only need to present God.” This is code that means, present God in the way I tell you: it worked in the past and so nothing else will work. I was even once told by an elderly minister (whom convinced many people in the community to resent the church I staffed at) that he didn’t understand “relationship evangelism” and that he would “refuse to hear anything about it.” When evangelism ceases to be about people and finds itself caged within mandated walls and restricted barriers it become a complicated machine and becomes just as binding as the old testament laws that held the Israelites in bondage after Christ’s atonement.
I don’t find fault with “You only need to present God.” I believe that. But saying that you can only do the presentation one way, an arbitrary, preset way, is like reading a script from a telemarketer call-center. This is what got our country to its current spiritual state. I honestly believe that western Christianity long ago lost the “Spirit of Issachar.” They lacked understanding in that black and white era I mentioned previously. In those days (the late 50s and 60s) a cultural cauldron was brewing, out of which emerged a new civilization: our current post-Christian culture. The saddest thing is how in those two decades there were such explosive opportunities to adapt methodologies and impact the emerging generations as they came into their own—think about it: a culture obsessed with changing music trends in the 50s which combined with the “free love” culture of the 60s! How intense an impact could we have had if we’d embraced emerging music rather than condemned it, and what if we had SHOWN love to those claiming it was the highest power on the planet and revealed love AS God instead of writing them off? The western church, instead, rebuked cultural shifts and has been paying for it ever since. We failed to be like the men of Issachar in 1 Chronicles 12:32, “men who understand the times.”
God is unchanging. He is the same and His words remain a bastion against the tides of time, but only God is eternal; we forget that. Read three random psalms from a KJV Bible to a group of Kindergarteners and watch their confusion. In 1611 the children may have understood what you’d said; language has changed as time progressed, however. There is no fancy method, technique, or ministry trend influencing that—just simple language development within culture. Time changes things. Resistance to change (that’s what we saw in the 50s/60s, even still today,) is based upon a couple of possible options: your personal comfort zone, prejudging others (seeing them through YOUR eyes and not GODS’,) or a lack of true faith. I think our current post-Christian world-state is a cause of all three.
Here’s what I want: the timeless Gospel truth related to an individual in ways that they can understand and comprehend. There’s a difference between evangelism and EFFECTIVE evangelism. I’m a football fan. I love to watch my favorite team play, but I hate to watch them “just play.” I only enjoy seeing them “play well,” anything else is painful to bear. I’ve been told that I doubt how “God will do all the work,” and that I “lack faith” when I claim we must lay aside old mandates, but that’s not it at all. I often see a cyclic, defensive argument meant to shield a personal lack of sincerity and maintain a status quo. If you tell a child to apologize for hurting their sibling and they snap a resentful “I’m sorry” back, it doesn’t resolve the circumstances. Further, it lacks the foundation that you were trying to get at: love, and exacerbates the condition. See, if we really loved the lost and yearned for them to join the righteous, we would do whatever it takes to show them the Gospel in whatever ways they might understand.
The cost of the human soul is too great. We MUST have the attitude of Paul in 1 Corinthians 9:22 (To the weak I became weak, to win the weak. I have become all things to all men so that by all possible means I might save some.) We must do WHATEVER it takes to present the Gospel effectively. To refuse to meet a lost soul’s need for salvation on THEIR level by claiming that it’s all “up to God anyway,” is but a half-hearted attempt to throw your faith at a prospective convert while refusing to leave your comfort zone. It’s kind of like the construction worker driving down the road who whistles at the pretty girl on the sidewalk; she has to run after the moving truck in high heels and throw herself inside the vehicle screaming, “I’m so glad you told me how you feel! Take me, now!” Moreso, it’s like going to Russia and preaching fervent, passionate sermons in English and mandating that the spectators learn English to sit in your audience. You will find yourself with little or no listeners. Think about it, people with this sort of attitude (the majority of “average Joes” in most church congregations) rarely save souls; their audience has left. Poll all congregants in your church who are older than forty. Ask for a show of hands on who led another soul to Christ in the last year; ask how many even “witnessed” to an unsaved person. The meager results will scare you and likely put your dreams of a new church building plan on hold.
I think previous generations saw certain types of evangelism as effective to the previous generation’s culture. It worked well enough at the time and so nothing new was ever attempted; eventually, with subsequent generations and culture shifts, we find ourselves where we are today. Now, we see a generation of young Issachars rising up with hearts beating to reclaim lost ground. Barriers and resentment separate many older and younger ministers as well as older and younger Christians. Brothers, these things should not be.
This whole argument aside must fall aside in the interest of the unsaved. There should be no division in our ranks as long as one person on this planet remains to be saved! Older, more traditional approaches and terminology may be effective on an older crowd, so use it when it works, but find an updated, alternate way to relate the timeless truths to newer groups—a way void of stigma and prejudgment by the prospective audience. See, while we are not exactly “selling something” to the nonChristian world, sales techniques demonstrate what is effective for presentation to an audience.
So back to my house-buying friend, I thought about an older house with a furnace. A nice, saleable home might have an old furnace that has all the appearance of antiquity. It may work perfectly well, run just as efficient as its modern counterparts, and keep a home at comfortable temperatures for the owner. Most homebuyers will see that furnace as a detractor; many comparable homes will have newer furnaces and make many buyers pursue the comparable ones rather than the one with an archaic furnace. Functionality has nothing to do with it; it’s all a mental perception on the part of the buyers. Were I still an agent, I would address that concern and offer suggestions to remedy the situation. In the best-case scenario, the furnace could simply be updated—a furnace is still there: it’s exactly the same in function, fuel, etc. but is relevant to the situational modernity of the home. This is exactly what we need to do. Keep the message the same, but not give negative resistance to our audience with our methods and language usage.
To maintain a positive marketability in the world, we should never fear updating those things that need a facelift in the church (and yet take care to maintain the integrity of God’s Word—don’t sweat the language barriers, buy a Greek lexicon and check your Spirit). Tradition is merely the repeated methods of our predecessors, not some specially ordained sacrament; who cares how it’s always been done? Sometimes lightbulbs burn out—so we replace them with new lightbulbs. We don’t exchange lightbulbs with blenders, nor do we put in other worn out bulbs, but replace them with newer, effective versions that function properly in their place. When a bulb fails to provide illumination any longer, it must be changed or we remain in the dark.
Let’s not forget the need. We must be as effective as possible and willing to reach beyond our comfort zones to impact the world. If the furnace filter needs changing then change the filter; if the whole furnace needs replacing, make it so. The cost of failure is far too great.
I am an author, blogger, pastor, and musician. I love the college campus and am working with Chi Alpha to reach college students, so I can teach them something before they learn everything.
I'm the author of The Kakos Realm (soon to be rereleased by Marion Margaret Press) and keep a blog called Holy Schmitz! at http://christopherschmitz.blogspot.com. My articles posted here (and more) are also available on my blog.